When Beijing’s new airport opens in Daxing on September 30 it will be a temple to modernity.
The $12 billion hub – located to the south of the capital – will source solar and geothermal power to meet some of its energy needs; there are plans for nine in every 10 of its passengers to use automated check-in; travellers will even be able to keep an eye on the location of their luggage via e-tags.
But not everything about Daxing is quite so progressive.
Late last month the Beijing Transport Commission came in for criticism after it announced it had designed larger “female” spaces in the airport’s new carparking lot.
“The appearance and design is closer to the female style, the parking space is also more spacious,” a press release advised.
The statement described the women-only slots as a “humanising” measure for the new aviation terminal – listed alongside other features such as charging facilities for 600 electric vehicles and a vehicle tracking app to help people find their cars. However, it was the women-only parking spaces that captured most of the attention on social media with netizens soon calling the airport out for perpetuating sexist stereotypes.
“Why call them women’s spaces? Did I sit a female driving test? Are you going to give us women’s roads?” asked one weibo user.
“Why not call them learners’ spaces? Don’t assume all women are bad drivers and certainly don’t assume all men are good drivers!” fumed another.
The trope that women are poor, even dangerous drivers is pervasive in China. When a bus plunged off a bridge in Chongqing last year killing 15 people, the media were quick to blame the disaster on the driver of an oncoming car – a woman (see WiC431). Such was the frenzy that some netizens called for her to be executed. Yet a few hours later it became clear that it was the driver of the bus – a man – who was at fault.
In the aftermath of the case it was pointed out that gender was often cited in the headlines of traffic accidents involving women. But when men are involved, little attention is paid to their sex.
State broadcaster CCTV went further, highlighting that studies showed women drivers were actually safer than their male counterparts – a claim deployed recently by the China State Railway Group to explain why it was training its first batch of female bullet train drivers.
A spokesman for the group told Xinhua that modern trains require less physical strength to drive. “Women are more detail-oriented, which gives them an advantage,” he said.
Video footage taken from security camera in a car park in Shenzhen might also back that theory up. It showed a woman getting out of her car to measure the width of a narrow-looking parking space to work out if her vehicle could fit into it.
Some netizens praised the woman for being so methodical. Others – often men, it seemed – criticised her for not being able to do it by sight.
In fact the controversy over designated parking spaces for women is nothing new. In WiC45 we reported on a similar backlash after a shopping mall in Shijiazhuang designed a section of its car park for ‘women only’. The spaces were a metre wider than the standard design and were painted bright pink. And in case more help was required trained attendants were on hand to guide female drivers into the spaces.
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